Tag Archives: personal shopping

Beware of Sales!

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sales shoppingJanuary is a time of year when sales abound in all of the stores.  Not only are retailers trying to clear out the holiday items that didn’t sell, they’re also trying to make room for their spring merchandise.

As you may know, the fashion industry and retail stores are always a few months ahead of the game.  While we’re still shivering (yes, even here in San Diego!) and donning coats and boots, the stores are beginning to stock everything that’s new and exciting for the warmer weather ahead, even if we won’t feel that warmth for another four or five months.

When a Bargain Isn’t a Bargain…

Sales can be a wonderful thing, but they also present numerous hazards for shoppers. We often lose all common sense when we see a bright red “Sale” sign in front of us.  I say “we” because I too have often fallen prey to the allure of a “bargain” that was just too good to pass up, only to find myself with an unworn wardrobe “orphan” down the line.

Since many of you will be shopping the sales this month, I would like to offer a few tips to help you shop smarter and avoid making misguided discount purchases.

Shop with a List

I always suggest that people maintain an ongoing shopping list to take with them when they hit the stores.  Not only should you create such a list, but you should use it to guide all of your shopping decisions – even when shopping the sales.

I’ve learned this one the hard way.  Since it’s very easy to find tops that fit me (don’t even ask me about pants…), I would frequently snap up beautiful tanks and tees at rock-bottom prices.  Sounds good, right?  But many of those discount purchases, as well as the other tops in my closet, were never or rarely worn because I had far too many of them!  It would have been far better for me to focus on my actual wardrobe needs than to amass more and more of what I already had.

Use your shopping list to target your purchases at the sales, and don’t try anything on that isn’t on your list unless it’s beyond extraordinary.

Shop for What You’ll Wear Now

It’s easy to be tempted to buy in advance for events in the future, but this can be risky.  Sure, you’ll find lots of formal dresses on sale in January, but if your only dress-up events occur around the holidays, what are the chances that you’ll want to wear your sale pieces eleven months from now?  Chances are you’ll want the latest and greatest items, or perhaps your size may shift such that your bargain purchases no longer fit you.

If you’re going to buy something on sale, buy garments which you can wear right away.  For example, you’ll find lots of sweaters, coats, and boots on sale this month.  Since the cooler weather will be around for at least a few more months (and longer for some locales), you can buy such items on sale and wear them immediately.  These purchases will fit your body, the weather, and your current style aesthetic.  If you can’t wait to wear a prospective purchase, and you know you’ll wear it very soon (and it’s on your list!), it’s a good buy.

Ask Yourself this Key Question

One magic question can save you a lot of money on misguided sale purchases:  “Would I buy it at full price?”  If you can honestly answer yes to that question (and the item is on your list and for the current season), it’s a good buy.

So often people buy something because it’s cheap, but they would never consider purchasing the item at full price.  This is one of the biggest hazards of thrift and consignment store shopping, as well as sale shopping.   We have a tendency to make allowances for color, style, and fit when the price tag is low, forgetting that it’s not really a bargain if you don’t wear it.

If you don’t love something enough to buy it at full price, don’t buy it on sale, either.  It’s very likely your purchase will hang in your closet and collect dust!

Damage Control

Last but not least, consider whether or not you’ll be able to return the item should you change your mind.   Even the best shoppers among us can make mistakes at times.   We can get caught up in the sales frenzy or fall victim to poor lighting or “skinny mirrors” in store fitting rooms.  But, unfortunately, many clearance items are “final sale,” eliminating the possibility of returns.

When shopping sales (and in general), it’s best to only buy things that can be returned later if necessary, if not for a refund than at least for store credit.  Try to only purchase “final sale” items when you are absolutely sure they work well for your body, lifestyle, and personality.  Reserve these risky purchases for “10s” that you want to wear immediately!

Take Your Time

I hope these tips have been helpful to those of you who are planning to shop the post-holiday sales.  I will leave you with one final tip… Take your time when shopping.  Some of the worst shopping mistakes are purchases that are made on the fly.  I understand that people are busy and it’s hard to set aside a full day for shopping, but try to give yourself a couple of hours if at all possible.  Take your list with you, try everything on, aim for “10s,” be careful, and have fun!

I gave a few of my best tips, but I know there are more valuable insights out there. If you have any other tips for sales shopping, please share!

Shop for YOUR Life!

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Shop For YOUR Life!Before you set out on a shopping trip, it’s very important to consider your lifestyle!  This tip may seem self-evident, but I can’t tell you how many shopping mistakes I’ve seen in people’s closets (not to mention my own!) because they failed to take a moment to think about their own lives before shopping.  It’s so easy to become mesmerized by all of the beautiful things in the stores and buy things for someone else’s life instead of your own.

A few personal examples may help to drive this point home.  Back in 2004, I discovered the television show, “What Not to Wear,” and began the journey of transforming my style.  As each new episode aired, I sat at the edge of my seat trying to absorb all of the fashion wisdom being doled out by the show’s hosts, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly.

Blazers and Pointy-Toe Heels

In the early days of “What Not to Wear,” two wardrobe items often recommended for the makeover participants were blazers and pointy-toe heels. Being a good student, I set out to buy these “necessary” pieces, and of course I needed at least a few of each!  What I failed to consider were three very important things about myself and my life:

  1. I live in San Diego, not New York City
  2. I work from home
  3. I have very fussy feet

No Jacket Required…

Let’s take these things one at a time.  Those of you who’ve been to both San Diego and the “Big Apple” know that the two cities have very different climates and cultures.  In San Diego, most people dress very casually (I often think too casually, but that’s another topic…) and traditional style blazers are rarely seen in this town.  Of course, there are people who wear them, but those who work from home are probably not among that group!

Not only did I work from home, but even when I went out to client or networking meetings, a blazer wasn’t generally needed.  Business casual was usually as dressed up as I ever needed to be for my work at the time.  Sadly, the fabulous new blazers I dutifully purchased largely went unworn and were in nearly new condition when I donated them to charity a few years later.

“Taxi Cab Shoes” – Just Say No!

As for the shoes, I loved the way the pointy-toe pumps looked on my feet.  However, they were quickly relegated to the ranks of “taxi cab shoes,” shoes that can only be worn from the cab – or car – to the restaurant and back again.  Since I usually needed to walk more than a few feet at a time, I often found excuses not to wear my lovely new shoes.  Plus, the shoes were often too dressy for my standard attire and the occasions of my life.  Much like the blazers, the shoes were in excellent shape when they were donated.  I hope that someone ended up loving and wearing them!

I Must Confess… Shoe & Dress Transgressions

I wish I could say that I never make these types of mistakes with my shopping anymore, but I have to admit that I sometimes still shop for someone else’s life.   My largest transgressions in recent times have been in regards to shoes and dresses.  Since I still love the look of a high heel, especially with the skirts and dresses I enjoy wearing when the weather is warm, I find I have too many shoes that are not suitable for all-day walking (or even walking for a few hours at a time). Not long ago, I vowed to only buy walkable shoes and with each purchase, my feet are gradually becoming happier – and healthier.

Now about those dresses… I love to wear dresses, but some of the ones to which I am drawn are not only a bit too formal for my life, they also look their most smashing with those uncomfortable heels I wrote about above.  Since I can count the number of occasions in my life which call for a cocktail dress on one hand, I have instituted a moratorium on buying such dresses until the ones I already own have received sufficient wear.   I have learned to just say no when I pass by these lovely dresses in a store.  I may sigh a bit at first, but then I remember I’m doing the right thing and move on with my head held high.

Tips to Avoid Dressing for Someone Else’s Life

A few tips for you to use when shopping to avoid the mistakes I’ve made.

  • First, write a list of the activities in which you engage on a regular basis.
  • Then do your best to assign a percentage value to each type of activity.
  • The proportion of clothing types in your wardrobe should adhere to those percentages as closely as possible.

If, for example, only 5% of your life involves attending cocktail parties and formal events, only 5% of your wardrobe should consist of formal attire.  If you work in a business casual environment full-time and your hobbies include hiking, cycling, and going to the movies, the majority of your wardrobe should be comprised of jeans, casual pants (and skirts/dresses, if you are a woman and you wear them), casual tops, cotton jackets, and workout wear. Think Gap, Old Navy, or J. Crew, not the Men’s Wearhouse or the Special Occasion department at Nordstrom!

Do Your Homework Before You Shop!

Take a look in your closet… See what garments are getting a lot of wear and which ones are gathering dust.  Chances are the latter pieces were bought for someone else’s life!

Next time you shop, do your homework.   Create a list of what you really need for your unique life.  Be prepared when you shop and you’re much less likely to make costly mistakes!

Fitting Room Tips

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This is the second in my series of shopping tips to help you shop smarter and avoid common mistakes and pitfalls.  I invite you to check out my first tip, “Try On Again at Home,” in case you didn’t see it when it was posted.

This tip focuses on the actual process of trying on clothes at the store.  You are trying on all of your clothes before you buy them, right?  If not, then that’s the first part of the tip.  Make sure you try everything on before you buy it!   As we all know, sizing is inconsistent, even within garments from a given manufacturer, so we can’t rely on past experiences to dictate how something will fit.

Take the Time to Try Things On

I understand that you may be in a hurry when shopping or have small children in tow, but the few moments you take to try things on can potentially save you the larger chunk of time required to make returns later.  In addition, some people won’t even take the time to return ill-fitting garments.  They’ll either end up wasting their money or wearing “it will do” clothing bought during a hurried shopping trip.

Once you enter the dressing room, I have a few pointers on how to make the most of that experience.  Following these quick and easy suggestions can help you make better choices and avoid having comfort or fit issues later.

Check Out the Rear View

If you’re shopping in higher-end stores, the fitting room will likely be equipped with a three-way mirror, or there will be one available nearby.  If so, make sure to check out the fit of your potential buys from all angles.  Something may look fabulous from the front, but not so great from the side or the back.  It’s good to know how you will appear to others in what you’re wearing.

Since many discount retailers and resale shops have smaller fitting rooms with just one flat mirror, it’s a good idea to take a small hand mirror with you when shopping.  This can be a make-up compact or a fold-up mirror that easily fits into a purse.  Such a mirror will come in handy for seeing your rear view in fitting rooms that don’t include three-way mirrors.   Simply turn around and hold the mirror in front of you until you can see your back side.  This view will provide additional data points to guide you in making your purchasing decisions.

Sit Down

When trying on pants, jeans, skirts, and dresses, it’s important to know how the garment will feel when you’re sitting down.  Fortunately, most dressing rooms include some sort of bench or chair in which you can do a “sit test.”  If no seating surface is available in the fitting room itself, it’s likely you’ll find some sort of chair in the nearby vicinity.  If not, then do your best to mimic a seating position by partially squatting in the fitting room, if you can…

To do this quick test, simply sit down and position yourself as you would be seated in your normal life situations.  If you generally cross your legs when you sit down, do so and check out how the garment moves with you.  When you stand up, notice if a lot of repositioning of the clothing is necessary.  Clothing pieces that require a lot of fidgeting and fussing throughout the day are often the ones that sit in a person’s closet unworn.  Since most of us sit down and stand up many times each day, we want to make sure our clothing moves well with us and doesn’t require a lot of adjustment as we go about our daily activities.

Move Around

When most of us try on clothing, we just stand straight and look at ourselves in the mirror to determine whether or not there is a good fit.  But how many of us stand still during our day to day life?  Not many!

To better ascertain the suitability of a garment for your life, move around in the fitting room as you normally would during the course of a typical day.  Raise your arms over your head, twist around, and bend your waist and your knees.  Notice what happens to the clothing as you do these things.  Minimal readjustment after movement may be okay, but if you have to smooth and pull at a piece a lot after you move, you might be better off saying no to buying that item.

I learned this lesson the hard way, particularly with tops.  I’ve had a number of tops that would ride right up each time I raised my arms, necessitating a lot of adjustment with every movement.  Needless to say, these tops weren’t worn much due to sheer annoyance and frustration!  I now make sure to move around in the dressing room before deciding to buy something.

Consider Companion Pieces

This last tip has to do with how we might wear a garment we’re considering buying.  If you usually tuck your shirts in and you’re buying pants, consider whether or not there is enough room to do so.  If possible, do a “tuck test” in the fitting room to be sure.

If you are buying pants or jeans and like to wear heels, notice if there is enough extra length for you to do so (or if there is a hem allowance for the appropriate alteration).  You might want to either wear your heels while shopping or tote them along with you to do a quick try-on in the fitting room.

Here’s to Saving Time and Money!

The bit of time it takes to use the tips above will hopefully save you time in making returns down the line.  Implementing my suggestions can also save you money in little worn (or unworn!) purchases due to fit and fuss issues.  If you have any other fitting room tips that I didn’t mention, please feel free to add them in the comment form below.

Try On Again at Home

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After you shop, I always recommend that you try your new purchases on again once you arrive home.

There are several reasons for this recommendation:

1. Harsh Lighting & “Skinny Mirrors”

Shopping Tip - Try On Again at Home

It is easier to assess an item in a familiar environment.

Store lighting is artificial and often harsh and some stores are known to have “skinny mirrors.”

(If you’re a “Seinfeld” fan, you might remember the episode in which Elaine bought an ill-fitting dress at Barney’s due to this phenomenon.)

2. New Pieces Should Play Well with Others

You can try on the new item with your existing pieces to ensure that it “plays well” with them.  I recommend that each new garment should be easily incorporated into at least three outfits (the more, the better!).

3. Test Drive New Garments

You can “test drive” the new pieces more easily at home.  Move around in them, sit down, do the things you would normally do.

This is especially important with shoes.  When you try on shoes in a store, you’re often walking only short distances on a carpeted surface.  You’ll get a better sense of long-term comfort if you wear the shoes around your house for an hour or more.

4. Store Return Policies

Some stores have strict return policies.  If you try things on as soon as possible at home and end up determining that something won’t work out, you can schedule the return for a convenient time within the store’s return window.

5. Don’t Let this Happen to You!

In most overly packed closets, you’ll likely encounter unworn garments with tags still attached.  In many cases, these items have been in the person’s closet for months or even years and can no longer be returned.  This tip – try everything on again at home – would likely eliminate at least a portion of such problems.

I hope this tip will be helpful for you on your future shopping excursions. Stay tuned for more shopping tips to help you get the most out of your clothing dollars and avoid shopping pitfalls.